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The Bright Side of Bad Behavior

Being Sneaky

The bad behavior: When Holly Fitzsimmons was 4, she made a classic mistake that cost her a much-wanted treat: "Holly asked if she could have a cookie, and I told her she couldn't," explains mom Sandy Fitzsimmons of San Jose, California. "The next thing I know, she's in the kitchen, calling out, 'Don't come in here, Mommy!'"

Needless to say, Mommy went into the kitchen to find Holly standing on a chair at the counter, cookie in hand. The little bandit was busted.

The bright side: In a perfect world, preschoolers would never steal, sneak, or lie. In reality, they do it all sooner or later. Sneakiness is hard to quantify, but research suggests that by age 5, almost 100 percent of children tell lies. For better or worse, deception is part of the human condition.

Your preschooler's first lie or attempt to put one over on you shows a significant cognitive leap: She's figured out that what you think and what she thinks are not the same. Believe it or not, this new understanding not only gives your child the ability to be deceptive, it also helps her begin to empathize with others as well.

How to handle it: The best way to deal with a lie is directly and with a matter-of-fact, can't-fool-me attitude. Announce without any long explanation that you know what she's saying is not true (this is how parents get a reputation for having eyes in the backs of their heads), then tell her how you expect her to help remedy the situation. For instance: "I know you spilled the dog's food. You are going to help clean it up right now."

Even though your child's first lies and attempts to fool you may be downright adorable, never laugh about it or retell the story in front of her. Toddlers and preschoolers seek attention any way they can get it. If telling a fib or swiping something does the trick, chances are your child will be happy to do it all over again.

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